Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Examining the Threats to Indonesia's National Interests

Drafted By:Erich Marquardt

With 210 million people, Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous state and possesses Southeast Asia's strongest military. Consisting of more than 17,000 islands, spanning from the east of Malaysia to the western portion of the island of New Guinea, Indonesia controls critical sea lanes and airways, making it a strategic regional state in Southeast Asia. Ruled by authoritarian military leaders since its independence from the Netherlands in 1949, Indonesia was a strong ally of the West during the Cold War and an adversary to communism. Throughout this period, the military was the dominant political force in the country and kept a tight rein on political power, imprisoning and killing political dissidents to eliminate threats to its rule.

After the end of successive military dictatorships, first by General Sukarno from 1945 to 1967 and then by General Suharto from 1967 to 1998, the government of Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie agreed to economic liberalization policies in addition to lifting controls on labor unions, political parties and the media. Indonesia's first nationwide elections after the successive military dictatorships of Sukarno and Suharto took place in June 1999; since these elections, Indonesia has seen peaceful transfers of political power.

As Jakarta continues to struggle with political stability, it faces a number of threats to its interests. It has strived to retain its territorial integrity, fighting off separatist rebels in Aceh and Papua provinces; it has suffered from Islamist violence, best displayed during the October 2002 terror attack on a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people; the present civilian government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has tried to limit the power of Indonesia's most dominant faction, the military; and it must prepare to adapt to the changing security arrangements in East Asia due to the rising status of China as a regional power. How the present government in Jakarta handles these significant threats to its interests will determine the future shape of Indonesia's internal and external security disposition.

Threats of Separatism in Aceh and Papua Provinces

In Indonesia's Aceh province, located on the northernmost part of the island of Sumatra, separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement, known as Gerakin Aceh Merdeka (G.A.M.), have been fighting the Indonesian government for 30 years. No stranger to separatism, Jakarta fought a recent losing battle against separatists on the eastern portion of the island of Timor, known as East Timor.

The conflict in East Timor culminated in January 1999 when the Indonesian government of Habibie agreed with a U.N. process to allow the East Timorese to vote on independence. Approximately 98 percent of registered voters took part in the election, and 78.5 percent of those voters called for independence from Indonesia. The Indonesian Defense Forces, or Tentara Nasional Indonesia (T.N.I.), in an attempt to influence the election, and in retaliation to the final result, responded roughly, causing much violence and destruction. Indeed, the attacks against the East Timorese were so harsh that it critically affected Indonesia's relations with other states, resulting in the U.S. Congress severing all military ties with its once strong Cold War ally. While Indonesia was forced to relinquish sovereignty in East Timor, it does not plan on surrendering sovereignty elsewhere in its island chain, such as in the provinces of Aceh and Papua.

More independent than other parts of Indonesia, and more Islamic in character, Aceh never fully submitted to Dutch rule. After Jakarta took control of the province as part of its independence from the Netherlands, separatist tension remained, heightened by the fact that Aceh is abundant with such natural resources as timber and natural gas; these resources have been used by the central government in Jakarta, creating animosity among the more separatist elements of the population in Aceh who feel that their resources are being exploited.

G.A.M. calls for an independent and Islamic state and uses military force to agitate against the centralized rule of Jakarta. In addition to targeting Indonesian troops, the organization has attacked such international economic interests in the region as Exxon Mobil's natural gas facilities in Aceh. The movement is believed to have received funding and equipment from Iran and Libya; however, most of its arms are thought to come from sources in the region.

In response to G.A.M.'s insurgency, the Indonesian military frequently uses brutal tactics to destroy the organization's resolve. Human rights groups accuse the military of using tactics of abduction, rape, torture and mass killings against G.A.M. members and alleged supporters; as stated by the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch, "Substantial evidence from several reliable sources, including Indonesia's own National Commission on Human Rights, establishes that Indonesian security forces have engaged in extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on freedom of movement in Aceh."

Nevertheless, T.N.I.'s actions in Aceh have managed to push the rebels out of major cities and into the more rural areas of the province. While it appears that G.A.M. has been weakened, it still exists as an organization and continues to launch scattered attacks on Indonesian interests.

Indeed, G.A.M. just completed negotiations with the Indonesian government in Helsinki, mediated by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. As recently stated by Ahtisaari, "Issues discussed included special autonomy or, as proposed by G.A.M., self-government; amnesty and other measures to facilitate an agreement; security arrangements; monitoring of the implementation of the commitments; and timetable."

At the end of the talks, both sides came to common agreement over some of the key issues involving the conflict. G.A.M. publicly stated that it would drop its quest for independence in exchange for Aceh's greater autonomy from Jakarta. G.A.M. and Jakarta have agreed to a third round of discussions, planned for the middle of April.

On the western portion of the island of New Guinea, T.N.I. has engaged separatist rebels of the Free Papua Movement, known as the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (O.P.M.). O.P.M. is a political organization, with a military wing, that fights for independence and autonomy for the indigenous people of West Papua. Not a major threat to Jakarta, O.P.M. has engaged in military struggles with T.N.I., which reacts with a heavy hand, seen through the actions by the KOPASSUS, the Indonesian special forces unit. Human Rights Watch argues that "disproportionate reprisals against civilians and suspected separatists [occur]. Arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, and arson are widespread in this region of Indonesia."

Successive governments in Jakarta, and especially the highly nationalistic T.N.I., have as a major policy goal the preservation of Indonesia's current territorial integrity. After the loss of East Timor in 1999, Jakarta has worked to prevent the fragmentation of its territory, an often difficult task due to the spread-out nature of the country's islands. Both the United States and China, two states with influence in the region, have supported Indonesia in these efforts since a fragmented Indonesia would create risk for the stability of the straits. Ralph Boyce, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, explained this risk, telling the U.S. Congress in July 2001, "However, the flip side, which is instability in the world's fourth most populous nation, would threaten not only Indonesia's immediate neighbors, but also our own strategic and regional objectives.

Islamist Violence

Indonesia's large Muslim population makes it vulnerable to advances by Islamist organizations to recruit and train militants to launch attacks against the United States and Western interests. There are active, militant Islamist organizations operating in the region, and attacks against Indonesian and Western interests have already transpired.

On October 12, 2002, Indonesia suffered from a terror attack on a nightclub in the resort-city of Bali. The bomb blasts killed 202 people, many of them Westerners flocking to Indonesia's beautiful tourist destinations. The attacks were launched by Jemaah Islamiyah. On August 5, 2003, the group attacked the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, killing a dozen people. Finally, on September 9, 2004, nine people were killed when a car bomb detonated outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, injuring almost 200 people -- Indonesian authorities attributed this attack to Jemaah Islamiyah, although it is not clear if the organization claimed responsibility.

As these attacks demonstrate, militants have been able to launch successful, high-profile attacks on Western interests within Indonesia. The United States is concerned that Islamist organizations could increase their ranks and strength in Indonesia and launch even more debilitating attacks. Because Indonesia controls some of the world's most trafficked and vital sea lanes, it could provide a lucrative opportunity for Islamist organizations to cripple the global economy. As clearly defined by the U.S. State Department, "Indonesia remains a linchpin of regional security due to its strategic location astride a number of key international maritime straits."

For instance, the Straits of Malacca are a key sea lane for the transport of goods, as they link together the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Twenty-five percent of world trade passes through the Straits. Some 80 percent of Japan's oil is brought through the Straits, and as China increases its energy consumption and purchases of oil from the Middle East, it too sees the majority of its energy traffic pass through these critical sea lanes.

Furthermore, due to the dynamics of the Straits -- shallow reefs and narrow channels -- sea traffic is slow, meaning that any major attack would be extremely damaging. After all, the Straits are already a major target of pirates; the International Maritime Bureau ranks the Straits as the second hardest hit piracy hotspot on the globe. Some potential attack scenarios include the hijacking of an oil tanker and using it in conjunction with explosives to create an enormous bomb that could be used to attack coastal regions. The environmental disaster alone from the explosion of an oil tanker would be tremendous. Attacked in a narrow part of the channel, the oil spillage could be enough to block the route for other ships, having a significant effect on the global economic market.

For this reason, the United States, and its allies in the region, has worked with Indonesian security forces to analyze these scenarios and devise counter-terrorism techniques to combat their realization. China, too, has given assistance to Jakarta, offering to send military equipment at reduced rates for use by the T.N.I.

The Indonesian Military

The Indonesian military is the strongest power faction in Indonesia. The country was ruled by military leaders until 1998, and while a civilian government now rules in Jakarta, that government is handicapped by the entrenched power of the military. In the words of Juwono Sudarsono, the civilian minister of defense, the military "retains the real levers of power. … From the political point of view, the military remains the fulcrum of Indonesia." To highlight how independent of the central government the military is, it is estimated that almost one-third of the T.N.I. budget derives from the Indonesian government, with the rest of the budget coming from unaccountable sources; Dana R. Dillon from the Washington-based Heritage Foundation claims that these profits emanate from "illegal logging, poaching, drug smuggling, and protection rackets."

Until 1998, Indonesia was ruled by generals; this rule fostered an atmosphere where members of the military were exempt from many of the norms and laws affecting civilian society. Furthermore, under the concept of dwifungsi, the military was able to assert itself in social and political affairs. Dwifungsi reserved political posts within the government for military officers. This created a condition where officers served in all levels of the government, even in parliament, causing the entire government to be under the oversight of the military.

The system of dwifungsi is no longer active and a number of reforms have been pushed through to try to limit its past effects. For instance, military officers must now resign from the armed forces before filling a position in the civilian government. The police, too, have been separated from the military. Nevertheless, the atmosphere prevails today, seen through the many human rights offenses committed by the T.N.I., and shown by military leaders who are still unwilling to give up their entrenched positions of power to a civilian government.

Up until the early 1990s, T.N.I. and the U.S. military enjoyed good relations. According to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, from 1950 to 1993 the United States trained more than 8,000 Indonesian officers in U.S. military schools, in addition to providing Indonesia with hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance grants, loans and credit used to purchase U.S. military supplies.

Throughout this period, however, the little civilian oversight of the military caused T.N.I. to become grossly corrupt and violent. In November 1991, the Indonesian military shot at peaceful protesters in East Timor, leading to the deaths of hundreds of people. The following year, in 1992, the U.S. Congress ended its security assistance to Jakarta. In 1995, the ban was relaxed, only to be reestablished following the reaction by T.N.I. to the 1999 decision by East Timor to separate from Indonesia.

Then, in 2002, another incident occurred involving T.N.I.; an ambush resulted in the deaths of two U.S. citizen teachers in Papua province on New Guinea. The F.B.I. complained about the little support it received from Jakarta in investigating the murders, which led Congress to further restrict the International Military Education and Training (I.M.E.T.) and Extended International Military Education and Training (E-I.M.E.T.) programs. It is thought that the Indonesian military had a role in the murders. Until the U.S. Secretary of State certifies to Congress that T.N.I. is assisting in the F.B.I. investigation on the murders, the military education and training programs will remain restricted and so will U.S. arms sales to the Indonesian government.

Jakarta claims that it is working to comply with the United States on these matters. Nevertheless, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy said in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in early February, "Although senior Indonesian military officers have repeatedly vowed to support reform, they have done next to nothing to hold their members accountable for these heinous crimes. Instead, the Indonesian military has consistently obstructed justice."

It is for this reason that the current civilian government of Yudhoyono is seeking closer ties to the Unites States and the reestablishment of the I.M.E.T. programs; Yudhoyono seeks to establish civilian control over the entrenched power of the military. The I.M.E.T. programs, for example, provide officer training courses to member countries, presently consisting of Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan and India. It is funded by the U.S. Department of State.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense describes the I.M.E.T. program as one that "exposes students to the U.S. professional military establishment and the American way of life, including amongst other things, U.S. regard for democratic values, respect for individual and human rights and belief in the rule of law." The department further explains that the purpose of I.M.E.T. is to "further the goal of regional stability through effective, mutually beneficial military-to-military relations which culminate in increased understanding and defense cooperation between the United States and foreign countries; and to increase the ability of foreign national military and civilian personnel to absorb and maintain basic democratic values and protect internationally recognized human rights."

Because I.M.E.T. pushes civilian control of the military, it is in the interests of the civilian government of Yudhoyono to increase relations with the United States and to get its military involved in this program; this explains why Juwono is pushing for a "re-engagement" with Washington. For the entrenched military leaders, however, increasing ties with the United States could lead to the erosion of their power to civilian rule, which would be a new development for Indonesia. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz understands this assessment, noting during a January 2005 visit to Indonesia, "Cutting off contact with Indonesian officers only makes the problem [of corruption] worse."

The military's long nationalistic history of taking actions necessary for the preservation of Indonesia's territorial integrity and security as a state makes it skeptical of improved relations with the United States. It rations that excessive force is necessary to retain control over Indonesia's many islands, where uprisings are common and separatist groups are trying to follow the example of East Timor. Indonesian military leaders worry that if it were to increase relations with the U.S., it will lose the ability to take the necessary measures to preserve Indonesia's national interests.

The Changing Security Environment

The civilian government in Jakarta is striving to reestablish good relations with Washington. In addition to its desire to firmly control the Indonesian military establishment, Jakarta also recognizes that the security environment in Southeast Asia is changing as China increases its regional power. Indonesia's modern history with China has been rocky because Jakarta cooperated with Washington to resist the spread of communism. Relations with China were not officially resumed until 1990, although since 1985 economic relations between the two countries had been reestablished. Presently, the two countries are continuing to improve relations, and trade between them has increased greatly.

For instance, a free trade area is being planned that will encompass the states that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) and China, creating a market of 1.7 billion people. Indonesia, as the largest economy in A.S.E.A.N., will have a huge role in trade relations with China. China is already Indonesia's fourth-largest export market and one of China's primary resource suppliers, especially in oil and gas.

However, there are potential conflicting interests between the two states. China will seek a more influential role in Southeast Asia, especially considering so many of its resources and trade will emanate from there. This will induce China to seek greater control of the region to protect its own interests and to receive the benefits that come with being a regional powerhouse. Indonesia, on the other hand, is large and independent enough to desire complete autonomy from China. Furthermore, because the United States is seeking to continue its influence in the region, Jakarta will likely attempt to balance between China and the United States, obtaining the best concessions from each.

As an example of this, if the Bush administration is able to reestablish ties with Jakarta, it will result in more U.S. weaponry being sold to Indonesia, which would be used to patrol the country's critical sea lanes. China, too, has offered fighter jets and other weaponry to Indonesia, much for the same reason but also to improve relations with a country that was formerly its antagonist.

As an example of this balancing technique, after the Chinese offer of weaponry, Juwono said that the Chinese "emphasized there would be no conditionality" and that Jakarta considered the offer "attractive." Juwono said his response to Beijing was that Indonesia's decision "depends on the strategic partnership. If it's junior partnership for Indonesia, no way." Indonesia is able to maintain this balance because the Chinese understand that Jakarta can always turn to the United States for equipment if Jakarta considers Beijing's conditions on the weapons purchases to be too demanding. And the United States knows that if it attempts to influence Indonesia's political decisions excessively, Jakarta could seek more support from Beijing.


As Southeast Asia's largest and most powerful state, Indonesia is a keystone country that is courted by both China and the United States. Both countries seek to gain influence in Jakarta, especially since the country patrols the Malacca Straits -- a critical passageway for global trade. Indonesia can attempt to balance the two powers off each other, gaining economic and military benefits from both while preserving its autonomy.

Yet, Indonesia faces a series of internal problems with which it must deal. It faces separatists in two of its provinces, and has already lost to a separatist movement in East Timor. It has suffered from multiple terrorist attacks within its borders and must be vigilant in preventing such an attack from affecting trade through the Straits. Its nationalistic military is loathe to submit to civilian rule and still retains the "real levers of power."

Yet, if Jakarta is able to control the many threats to its interests, and maintain good relations with both the United States and China, it has a promising future. The plan to create a free trade area encompassing China and the A.S.E.A.N. states will help to unite East Asia's economic ideals, improving the region's development and placing it more independent from the West.


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